Eric Burdon Interview
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From Straight Ahead Magazine October/Novermber 1995 Vol. 79/80

Interview By Steve Roby

If you grew up during the lllid-sixties, no doubt you'll remember the top 40 classics by Eric Burdon and the Animals such House of the Rising Sun," "It's My Life," "Monterey," "Sky Pilot,,.. and "San Franciscan Nights."
Of all the musical groups from this period, The Animals have the strongest Hendrix connection going. In 1966, the original Animal'sbass player, Chas Chandler, left the group and went on to sucessfully manage The Jimi IIcodrixExperience. Eric Burdon, the group's lead singer and songwriter, was a very close friend of Jimi's and had the opportunity to jam with him on one more than one occasion - including Hendrix's final public appearance (more on that later).
With the release of Love Is in December of 1968, Eric Burdon and the Animals disbanded and moved on to new, if mostly obscure, projects. Burdon, wanting to move away from the British blues-rock roots, searched for a looser, more experimental sound. In the summer of 1970, Eric resurfaced with War, a black progressive funk band that produced the #1 U.S. hit "Spill The Wine."
When that group disbanded, Burdon got back to his musical roots by getting together with the legendary Jimmy Witherspoon and recorded Guilty.
In the '90's, Burdon has toured with Robbie Krieger (formerly of The Doors), did a cameo roll in Oliver Stone's movie The Doors, and collaborated with fellow Englishman and keyboard player Brian Auger. Eric Burdon is alive and well and singing better than ever. If you plan to attend the Jimi Hendrix Festival Tribute in Seattle this year, you can look forward to seeing Eric perform in the line-up.
Straight Ahead would like to thank Eric for the time he provided us to do this interview during his busy schedule. We'd also like to send our gratitude to Jeri Vogelsang and Melinda Merryweather for their help
III organizing this interview.

Straight Ahead: Tell us about the first time you met Jimi.

Eric Burdon: The first time I met Jimi was when I was rehearsing my new band at a club called The Telephone Booth. He had come down to look for players to be in the Experience. Chas (Chandler) knew I was putting a new band together and that I was looking for a guitar player. Noel Redding had come to audition. I was giving him the "don't call us, we'll call you routine" when I noticed Jimi standing in the back of the room. As Noel Was leaving, Jimi grabbed a hold of him and asked, "do you want to play bass?" We did get a chance to jam before they all left.

Straight Ahead: When was the next time you saw him . .. at Monterey Pop?

Eric Burdon: No. You've got to understand, we were running with the same crowd . ., basically sharing the same ladies . .. so I got to see quite a lot of him. We'd all end up at Zoot Money's pad after a night on the town. On one level we had a lot in common . . . we were connected to the same stable.

Straight Ahead: For the benefit of those who were not there or have ever heard your song, what was the scene like at Monterey?

Eric Burdon: It wa a religious experience. A harmonic convergence of the hippie era. A time when it all came together, in a better way then I've ever seen since. Sure Woodstock was THE EVENT, and history looks at it as the peak, but Monterey was the crown jewel of concerts. Monterey was Jimi's return back to the states. In Jimi's head, it was his first hometown gig. He was at his best showmanship.

Straight Ahead: It certainly shows in the film that was made.

Eric Burdon: I remember going out to the front few rows near the press box where I had my seat. These kids next to me were asking, "who's going to following The Who?" The pressure was mounting and it was very exciting. As soon as I heard it was going to be Jimi I rushed to my seat to see the show. These kids then asked, "who is this Jimi Hendrix?," and I replied ... "you'll find out." Part way through Jimi's set I looked over and noticed their big smiling faces giving me the thumbs up. The brightest moment for me was watching JH paint his guitars for that night. It was by sheer luck that I went by the motel where he was staying. You see they didn't have any phones in the rooms just one in the motel lobby. I had rented a motorcycle and swung by there to check it out. In the courtyard I saw him out there with a bucket of paint, a paint brush, and two of his axes ... the one he was going to sacrifice that night. I thought this is like some Navajo chief... burning sage... getting ready to commit himself to the forces. It wasn't until later that I discovered that there was a lot of Indian blood in Jimi's family. This whole scene I was witness to was an indication to me that there was much more to this man than I could fathom out in just one night.

Straight Ahead: Both The Animals and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had the services of Michael Jeffery as a manager. Much has been written about him and the some of his questionable doings. Can you share with us some of your insight on the man?

Eric Burdon: This interview is about Jimi Hendrix. I've lived that story. It hurt me a lot, but it hurt Jimi much more. It hurt all of us a lot because he's not around to tell the tale. I'd rather talk: about JH.

Straight Ahead: OK, what about 1968? Did your paths cross or any tours coincide?

Eric Burdon: Yeah, quite a lot... East coast... West coast in America. We did a festival in Switzerland together. That concert ended in a riot and subsequently set off ten years of riots. I remember this concert because it was one of the very rare occasions I got to trash his ass musically. We had a hot band. We were on a roll and very tight. Jimi had dropped his acid at the wrong time and was losing his peak. By the time he went on he lost it completely. That disturbed him, but I guess in his own head he got back at me. When I left the Zurich airport he was standing with my wife in his arms, and that was about the last time I ever saw her... (laughs) ... and that was perfectly acceptable to me then ... it didn't phase me at all... it was like OK mother fucker, I'll see you further down the line.

Straight Ahead: Of all the times you saw Jimi perform, when do you think he was at his best?

Eric Burdon: Ithink he was in prime at the Hollywood Bowl concert. He came up to my house after that show. We hung out and listened to some new unmixed material. That was one of the periods I felt we had a friendship going. He could have been anywhere doing anything, he was the toast of the town, and yet there we were... sitting up on a hill... smoking joints listening to music ... feeling like we was on top of the world ... which I guess we were.

Straight Ahead: You were also on the same bill with Jimi at the 1969 Newport Pop Festival. There are some great photos and footage of you and everybody else that showed up to jam that day. What can you tell us about that concert?

Eric Burdon: Jimi had done such a bad show on Friday that he came back and did a second one on Sunday.

Straight Ahead: There are some photos from that show of you and this blond haired lady who went by the name of Sunshine, she may also have been known as Mary Story ...

Eric Burdon: Yeah, I think that's the lady that's claiming to be the mother of one of his kids. I thought about that, and everybody has their own taste. She didn't seem to figure as the usual Jimi girl, but she was always around, and a fixture of those times. It's quite possible that the two of them were closer than I knew.

Straight Ahead: Was she a singer?

Eric Burdon: Yeah she was a singer... kind of a Janis, but not really. I never figured her and Jimi being together. I knew the girls first hand that Jimi hung out with, and there definetly was a certain ilk: or breed or standard that had to be met... all they way up to "mmm, can I have twin Chinese girls" or something like that. Until I read in your magazine that there was a closer relationship between the two of them, I didn't know it.

Straight Ahead: I agree. It's a very bizarre story, and one that needed further investigation.

Eric Burdon: On the other hand, anybody that knew about Hendrix ... I'm surprised that there's not twenty girls out there with kids. He had more restraint than I did that's for sure (laughs).

Straight Ahead: After Newport Pop, were there any instances when you saw each other prior to September 1970?

Eric Burdon: He came to our office sometime after Chas pulled out of the picture. I think he was considering what to do about his life and the future. This was when I just started with the band War and Gold and Goldstein. We tried as a company to help him because we were tied in with him business wise. The company we had just shot a movie of him at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969. This is where the pain for me comes in because my deal with Jerry Goldstein was - "you find us several acts to build a company, and that movie will be yours." I was in effect going to be given executive directorship of this movie. At that time every thing was hunky dory and I didn't see that anything could go wrong ... but it was just beginning to sour! My previous managerial situation had now become Jimi's situation, and I tried to warn him that it was The Animals money that was used to get him off the ground. I told him, I got fucked and you're going to get fucked the same way if you don't wake up. And of course he just laughed and was too busy conquering the world. I expected this reaction. I didn't think he'd listen to me, but I thought it was worth while to tell him. I also talked to Noel and Mitch about the same thing on Derring Howe's boat... and they just phased me out as well. This was the beginning of me starting to move into the position of a guy who was trying to ride on Jimi's coattails after he was deceased ... carry the mantle and all this bullshit. In effect, you might say it was true because I had this fucking movie. It was the best bit of film that Jimi was ever in or associated with ... 35mm, and a crystal clear performance. This was what caused the walk out. .. Gold
& Goldstein told me - just do another year's tour with War and make enough money so we can stop, and then we'll turn over the
negative to you and you can get on with it. I had Saul Bass ... Do you know who he is?

Straight Ahead: No.

Eric Burdon: He was one of the biggest and best cinema photographers in the world. He's the best title designer in the world ... he's done specialist work for Stanley Kubrick. I had him sold on the idea and we were just about ready to do the deal and then Jimi died. Six months later I walked into a record store and there was a clip used on a cover from my fucking movie! I went, WHAT'S THIS! I went over to Gold
& Goldstein and the story unfolded that they never intended to turn it over to me in the first place and this was just another story of me allowing myself to get fucked. I went out of the office and never went back. I then got back with War.

Straight Ahead: Jimi may have been the world's greatest guitar innovator, but probably not the best at dealing with big business situations.

Eric Burdon: Jimi was just as bad as any of us for signing anything that was stuck under our nose, and then trying to play clever by saying, "I didn't know about that man." I know Chas had a hell of a time trying to straighten out his affairs before taking him on. I think that when he and Chas parted ways, it was the end of the magic spell. Chas can be a complete bastard to people, and that's why he was a manager. Of course he was the right kind of bastard for Jimi because he wouldn't take any of his shit. So their two egos broke down and flowed together and came up with the apex of Hendrix's career... the three wonderful albums.

I am sure that Jimi was more than capable of producing, but being a producer is a phantom position. A producer should be like a mid-wife. If you look at the recording adventure, to me it's like giving birth ... creating a child. The artist is the mother, and the baby is the recording. The mid-wife is the producer to assist the musicians to be able to do what they need, and assist the creation to come to fruition. So Chas was kind of like a heavy mother. A real dominant mother, but nevertheless a mother figure for Jimi. So he felt really safe and he did his best work under that situation. I am not saying that he wasn't capable of producing, he was, but a lot of being a producer is making sure that this is booked, and those amps can be arranged, blah, blah, blah. A producer does a lot of the work a musician doesn't want to do. That's where these guys come in and either enhance the product or totally fuck it up. So in Jimi's case, when the producer left, he was bungling around from one idea to the next. Since Jimi didn't write music, the body of his work had to be captured on magnetic tape.

Straight Ahead: That's probably why so many different jams exist on tape.

Eric Burdon: I never saw him without his guitar except towards the end of his career. .. in fact around the time when I first met him, and he wasn't with his guitar at this party in London, I knew he was going to have problems. Without his guitar he was lost and insecure. He just wanted to play - ALL THE TIME ... and you can't do that. I had the same problems when I was with The Animals and we first came to America... I wanted to jam with everybody ... Fats Waller... that's why I became a musician. So there's a place in time and space, particularly in music, where talent and commercial value, in light of what's to be exploited, that they lock horns and become enemys of each other... because he just wanted to jam, jam, jam ... keep the flow going. The agent/manager attorney/producer's position is always - "don't jam man, you'll give it all away ... if they see you tonight they won't come tomorrow night." .

Straight Ahead: In other words, save a little?

Eric Burdon: Yeah, and of course by that time Jimi had burned so many axes, and made so many psychedelic sacrifices that's what the audience's chant became Burn the guitar! Bum the guitar! And at this time Jimi was trying to reach Miles Davis and become the Jazz icon that he should of been. In fact he would have created a new jazz that we all need and a kind that's missing today.

Straight Ahead: During the last week of Jimi's life he had the opportunity to come and jam with you and War at Ronnie Scott's club. This was Jimi's last public appearance and it took place on Wednesday September 16th. What can you tell us about this jam?

Eric Burdon: I hadn't seen Jimi for about a year, but I'd hear about him and keep tabs on him through people like Alvina Bridges in New York, and Eric Barrett his road manager. Anyway, I came into London with War and Eric Barett came to see me. He said you've got to go and see Jimi because he hasn't been across the door for six months. This was during the period when he met Monika and he was doing his own private thing away from the road. My reaction to Eric was, "hey I've tried to reach that guy on several occasions, if he's in that kind of a mood, ain't nobody can bring him out of it until he's ready to come out of it... I ain't going to him ... if wants to come talk to me, I'm playing at Ronnie Scott's club tonight." So one night later he came down.

Staight Ahead: That had to be on the Tuesday the fifteenth.

Eric Burdon: He came in with a string of ladies on his arm, including my Mrs .... who I hadn't seen in awhile ... "Hey Angie, how ya doin' babe?" It was all cool and nobody said anything. We were just glad that the guy had come out of hiding and across the door, out in public. On the night that he jammed with us, he came up and played on the last few tunes in the set. It was a jazz audience .. the London jazz brain intellectual circuit. It's not unknown for them to boo people off the stage especially if they are rock and rollers. When we went in there with War, it was a very adventurous thing to do. We were the first rock band to ever play there. It was an experiment, and to have Jimi come Jom in, it was great! We were on cloud nine ... but the audience gave him a hard time and booed him off. So he left and went back stage. I went to go have a talk with him. I told him, "don't give up, you've come across the door this far, don't stop now dude, get out there and play motherfucker!" He went back out and there was a problem with a fight for control of the band between Howard Scott, our guitar player, and Jimi. Howard forced Jimi to the background and Jimi was playing rhythm guitar during "Tobacco Road." The fire was building and I heard Howard play solos like I never heard him play before. He really forced Howard to shine that night. Then he came back and did a rip-roaring performance in grand Jirni Hendrix style. Afterwards, Jimi said I'll see you around and that was it. I never saw him again.

Straight Ahead: A couple of days later you received a from Monica about Jimi.

Eric Burdon: Yeah, what can I tell you. I felt he was in good hands. I didn't know her, but in my opinion he could take of himself. I had seen him in dreadful states before ... back then we were human enough to not even think twice about it. When she first called me I told her to get him some coffee and walk him around, and if there's a problem call me back.

Straight Ahead: Was that pretty early in the morning?

Eric Burdon: It was still dark, but that's not unusual for London ...
it was pouring rain. She called me back so I assumed there was a problem, and I told her to get an ambulance. She argued about it, saying that there was incriminating things in the flat... which I guess she took care of. I spent the next few hours after I had been over to the apartment looking around London for Mike Jeffery because I wanted to kill him. I definetley had malice in my heart at that point. The press came after Monica so I took her up to my mother's place so she could hide from the English press. And that was it - the world stopped.

Straight Ahead: I recall hearing you talk about in a radio interview about when you went over to the flat that you had noticed he had written the word love with his finger on the back window of a car.

Eric Burdon: It was written in the humidity, the mist on the window ... on an Opel, a copy of a Corvette. I figured it must of been him coming in late at night from a party. I also found this note by his bed which is now included in that book, "The Lost Writings of Jirni Hendrix."

Straight Ahead: What was your reaction to that final poem written by Jimi?

Eric Burdon: I still stand by what I felt that day, looking at the on-sight evidence after the body had just been moved and the bed was still warm. There was still an indentation on the bed where he had been lying ... it was that fresh. So I found this note by the side of the bed, read it, and thought it was a suicide note. I'm not saying that he set out that night to deliberately commit suicide, but he had the will to die. He might of said ... fuck it, I can't deal with this shit anymore ... I want to play and they won't let me. I've been there too in that same state of mind. You get really depressed and real suicidal ... only an artist can explain that.

Straight Ahead: When you arrived at the flat had the ambulance already taken him away?

Eric Burdon: Yeah... In reflection, Monica has shown me these instructions for her to do all these paintings. I've taken them to be for real because I've seen Jimi's note books and sketch books before. It looked like his directive and his hand. Knowing his interest numerology and color healing in the relevance to the human spirit... I mean for a 27 year old guy who grew up a black kid in the ghetto ... he was fukin' intelligent, he was bright, he was enlightened! I did a bit of detective work and ... if your going to commit suicide, you don't take nine pills ... you swallow the whole fuckin' bottle! I could be nuts, but I took that as a message, especially when I saw the message that was written by him.

Straight Ahead: Do you mean the poem he wrote, "The Story of Life"?

Eric Burdon: Yeah, the guy had tripped out on LSD, and I have been inside the same hallucination where I saw Jesus or Buddah together or separate - or the devil... many times ... After thinking about, what I think was that he was doing too much dope to be in the public eye situation he was in and to be surrounded by all the "yes people" he was around by the time Jeffery had taken control. Everybody was saying things like, "yes Jimi ... have this one Jimi ... " I think that he was living a hallucination that he was Jesus and he was inside a passion play and that in a way he manufactured his own crucifixion.

Straight Ahead: That's interesting. I've never heard that theory before.

Eric Burdon: Well, if you do enough acid you start to think that. It is an awesome drug and he did do an incredible amount. LSD figures into Jimi just as much as the Stratocaster does. It was just as important to Rock and Roll music. We try to play that down in these sober times, but anybody who tries to push that aside is full of shit. The whole movement was pushed by "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" which came out of a bottle of Sandoz (Editor's Note: Sandoz was the name of a pharmaceutical firm that once legally manufactured LSD).

Straight Ahead: That's true. That album was a heavy influence on a lot of people and the times.

Eric Burdon: If you go to Catholic school, you never forget the bleeding hands and the bleeding feet... those images are with you forever.

Straight Ahead: I know what you mean ... I went through twelve years of all that.

Eric Burdon: When I've tripped out with Jews and black people they would see the light side of things - there'd always be a laugh. If you tripped out with an Irish/Catholic ... it was like ... Dun Da Dun Dun (mimics the theme to the TV cop show "Dragnet").

Straight Ahead: A serious religious experience.

Eric Burdon: Absolutely. I think that was the root of Jimi's problems. For me to see that final note... it's about as good an interpretation of struggling for the Christ head can be.

Straight Ahead: It's a very deep poem with a hint of that "rising sun" theme he was working on.

Eric Burdon: The next time I saw it, it was copywritten and belonged to certain people. I think that in Jimi's head, when he went out he felt he wrapped things up nicely. I don't know any artist in the recording business, whose out there on the rock and roll circuit, doing gigs every night, that has an idea how much material there is in the can. I had no idea. I'm still haunted by bootlegs, things I forgot about, and demos that come out as finished recorded material... and that's happened to Jimi big time. I think he may have left this world thinking ... mmm I've left three great albums, I'll be remembered for that, I'm going for immortality.

Straight Ahead: It is amazing that for such a short career he left behind so much in the can and that 25 years after his death new recordings are still being discovered.

Eric Burdon: Yeah, I just heard Soup for the first time this morning and it was really fucking painful to listen to. The way I look at... it's just a string of demos that should have never reached the record buying public.

Straight Ahead: No matter how hard they try to enhance and overdub them.

Eric Burdon: The music that he left us is real and you can only judge an artist his work. It's just like the actor James Dean ... three magic movies ... it's a pity that the act can't be left that way. Even your magazine for instance, I think there's enough in Jimi as a complete artist, the way he saw himself, for us to keep loving and praising him for a lifetime.

Straight Ahead: In closing, do you have any final thoughts on Jimi?

Eric Burdon: Perhaps I should better define what I said earlier about the possibility of Jimi wanting to commit suicide. That was my initial feeling coupled with seeing "The Story of Life" poem sitting by the side of the bed. Later on I found out that Jimi was still alive when they took him away in the ambulance. As the years went by my confusion grew even though I wanted to hold on to my feelings that he was simply suicidle at the time. I felt that in addition to that last poem, a lot of his lyrics could even be interpreted in that manner. Take the lyrics to "I Don't Live Today" for example. I just wanted to make that point clear that for me there was a swing of one theory to the next, accept I always held onto the theory that it was just a bad case of mismanagement, confusion, and loneliness that would lead somebody to want to slip away.

The other point I would like to address is about The Black Panther Party ... When he arrived back in New York, they were always pulling on him to see things there way. I know that caused a lot of confusion in Jimi. Sure he wanted to stand up and be counted with the brothers, but I don't feel he had that degree of black pride to pick up a gun to want to change things, like the Panthers did. I think he probably had second thoughts about it. That lead to a lot of confusion further on down the line to where is heart was at.

Finally I would like to point out that Jimi's concept for Sky Church is far from dead. In fact, I think it's about ready to come about and have it's day. To a degree this already apparent with today's technology and what can be accomplished on the Internet and other on-line communication computer services. I understand some kid has already entered Sky Church as a concept on the Internet.